Goeken Proves It Can Be Done MCI Founder's Business Turns the Impossible into Profitable
Schmitt, Anne, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Anne Schmitt Daily Herald Business Writer
Jack Goeken already has a title in mind for his in-progress autobiography: "They Said It Couldn't Be Done."
He's seen the incredulous stares, the "you-can't-do-that" looks. He's heard the "buts" and the "that's-never-been-dones" faced by a man who's had ideas that others dismiss as too difficult or plain crazy, like the time he wanted to start a phone company - MCI - to compete with AT&T.
But the fun part for Goeken, and now his daughter and son-in-law Sandra and Paul Goeken Martis, always has been building companies from nothing, nurturing their early growth, then selling them as established businesses.
It's also where the biggest returns are.
"If you come up with something new that nobody has, you have a pretty good market to start with," Goeken said.
Those businesses have had mixed results once they were sold.
MCI has flourished since Goeken parted with the company in 1975 and now has revenue of some $12 billion.
Goeken's In-Flight Phone, on the other hand, has struggled. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and has slashed its work force.
In-Flight tried to differentiate itself from its rivals by offering interactive entertainment and news, rather than just phone service. But it didn't sign up airline customers at its competitors' pace. The service also lost customers because of technical glitches.
"They didn't want to talk to me," Goeken said. "I felt real bad it ended up like that. In my mind, they had a potential there that was really great."
Goeken's current ventures don't have the David-and-Goliath quality of his fight to create Microwave Communications Inc., now MCI, in the early 1960s. But neither has he abandoned the general MCI strategy: build up a company around infant technology that satisfies an unmet consumer need.
The newest businesses, being developed by The Goeken Group in a Naperville office building, include a wireless communications software company, a mayday service, an emergency medical information service and a distributor of illuminated safety clothing.
Wireless Works Inc. is closest to the Goekens' telecommunications roots.
Since 1995, the company has been striking deals, cementing licensing agreements or forming joint ventures with software companies developing technology for the emerging wireless telephone industry.
"What makes us unique is we find appropriate technology and the best companies that do it," said Sandra Goeken Martis.
The Goeken Group doesn't have the overhead of a company that's developing the software itself. But it can lend credibility, contacts, financial support and marketing experience to the small software companies.
"We have a more established reputation to bring to the big guys," she said.
The theory behind Wireless Works is that once the digital cellular technologies are more established, the telecommunications companies will want to be able to do more than just offer phone basic service. The Goeken Group is integrating cellular services that large communications companies will be able to offer their individual and corporate customers.
Take, for instance, Larry Dooling's Verbex Voice Systems in Edison, N.J. The company has developed speech recognition software that, when combined with cellular technology, will allow people to call their home or office computer and direct it, by voice, to look up phone numbers, place calls or read e-mail. …